Richmond church gains $1.25M mental health program grant

Free Press staff report | 12/21/2023, 6 p.m.
A historic East End church has been awarded $1.25 million from the Lilly Endowment to promote mental health and hire …
Dr. Chandler

A historic East End church has been awarded $1.25 million from the Lilly Endowment to promote mental health and hire psychologists and other professionals to serve congregants and the community.

Founded 156 years ago and now one of the largest predominantly Black churches in Richmond, Cedar Street Baptist Church of God was awarded the grant to start a program called “Support for Addressing Stigma and Promoting Mental Wellness among African-Americans,” the endowment stated.

Cedar Street in its grant application stated that funds would be used to increase mental health and wellness messaging through a collaboration with other churches and to expand mental health services in the area by opening a clinic with professional staff at its sanctuary at 2301 Cedar St.

The first program of its kind in Richmond, the initiative challenges a tradition of promoting prayer as the best resource for relieving stress and mental health concerns.

In the nuanced view of Cedar Street’s pastor, Dr. Anthony M. Chandler Sr., who led the effort to secure the grant, prayer and pastoral counseling are not always enough to meet the mental health needs of the people the church serves.

“I have learned through more than 20 years of pastoring that faith in God and your affiliation with a church are not the only resources necessary to holistic health,” Dr. Chandler said. “Depression, suicide, anxiety, feelings of guilt and loneliness are just a few of the stressors that affect members of my congregation and the African-American community at large,” said the pastor, who started his ministerial career in Baltimore and has been with Cedar Street since 2007.

“Having trained professionals available to assist is a much-needed addition to the congregational and community services we provide,” said Dr. Chandler, who has faced his own challenges since the death of his wife, Dr. Taleshia L. Chandler, in 2022.

Cedar Street is one of 104 organizations that shared $115 million in grants that the endowment recently awarded through its Thriving Congregations Initiative.

“Congregations play an essential role in deepening the faith of individuals and contributing to the vitality of communities,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion.

“We hope,” he continued, “that these grants and the programs they support will nurture the vibrancy and spark the creativity of congregations, helping them imagine new ways to share God’s love in their communities and across the globe.”

Based in Indianapolis, the foundation was started in 1937 by family members associated with the Eli Lilly and Co. pharmaceutical business. The endowment annually awards grants that support community development, education and religion.